Saturday, June 26, 2021

Book Review - Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America, by Hilary Levey Friedman

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

To many, pageant programs are simply pieces of paper tossed into a rubbish can shortly after the event. But they are more than ephemera; they contain the rich details of life showing what is worthy of remembering. For example, the physical measurements listed show how women’s bodies have changed over time. Moreover, what is absent or not listed—such as college major, GPA, or professional ambition —and when that information first appears, shows when the organization and society more generally began to care about those things for women. These historical sources open a window into women’s history to help us understand changing ideas about young women’s lives.

Popular culture events, especially women’s events, have a long history of producing brochures and souvenir books. Suffrage parades put out souvenir books in the 1910s. In 1940, Miss America issued its first souvenir program book. It was glossy, like a magazine, and contained information on all the contestants, events, advertisers, judges, organizers, and volunteers. The producers had previously released a pamphlet, but it had only scheduling information and nothing on the contestants.

While it’s easy for lots of people to turn up their noses at pageants, this history was enlightening. The author pointed out so much influence and reflection between pageants and the social and cultural evolution of the United States.

Official synopsis:
Book Review - Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America, by Hilary Levey Friedman
Many predicted that pageants would disappear by the 21st century. Yet they are thriving. America’s most enduring contest, Miss America, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020. Why do they persist? In Here She Is, Hilary Levey Friedman reveals the surprising ways pageants have been an empowering feminist tradition. She traces the role of pageants in many of the feminist movement’s signature achievements, including bringing women into the public sphere, helping them become leaders in business and politics, providing increased educational opportunities, and giving them a voice in the age of #MeToo.

Using her unique perspective as a NOW state president, daughter to Miss America 1970, sometimes pageant judge, and scholar, Friedman explores how pageants became so deeply embedded in American life from their origins as a P.T. Barnum spectacle at the birth of the suffrage movement, through Miss Universe’s bathing beauties to the talent- and achievement-based competitions of today. She looks at how pageantry has morphed into culture everywhere from The Bachelor and RuPaul’s Drag Race to cheer and specialized contests like those for children, Indigenous women, and contestants with disabilities. Friedman also acknowledges the damaging and unrealistic expectations pageants place on women in society and discusses the controversies, including Miss America’s ableist and racist history, Trump’s ownership of the Miss Universe Organization, and the death of child pageant-winner JonBenĂ©t Ramsey.

Presenting a more complex narrative than what’s been previously portrayed, Here She Is shows that as American women continue to evolve, so too will beauty pageants.

One thing that was obvious throughout this book was the staggering amount of research that was compiled in it. Pageants have continually reflected society and its values. Whether it was through what contestants were expected to wear, how they were expected to behave, or showing the contestants and spectators what was perceived as the most important features of those on stage. Whether the pageants were showcasing babies (and the mothers carrying them), women of many age groups, or members of different cultures celebrating what made them similar, pageants gave them all a way to take pride in their identity.

While there are many judgments about those participating in pageants (or those in charge of that decision for younger contestants), the author also explored the varied reasons contestants worked so hard to participate and potentially win their chosen pageants. Sometimes it was a tradition for the region they were from or the family they identified with, sometimes it was actually for the prizes, or even something as simple as bragging rights or the experience of participating.

Overall, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Unlike some non-fiction books, this was entertainingly told across the timeline of pageants in the US, while also exploring different types of pageants and different participants. It was also interesting to see the different paths that pageant contestants seemed more prepared for after their participation, like very visible jobs in entertainment, broadcast journalism, or politics. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in what pageants are really about, and how they have changed over time, just like the societies they reflect.

{Click here to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and problem-solver. When she can get all her ducks in a row for a few minutes, she enjoys unwinding with a book and a cocktail. Check out her summer reading views on Instagram, where she posts as PoshBecki.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Act of Negligence, by John Bishop {ends 6/22}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

We both slept through the alarm and were awakened by the persistent whining of the Tipster, who desperately needed to relieve himself. My immediate response was panic, not for my dog, but for me. After all, rounds, patients, surgery --

“Mary Louise! Get up! We’ve overslept! It’s after seven!” I said running into the bathroom to quickly shower. “Please walk Tip! I don’t have time!”

As I was hurriedly soaping down and washing my hair, the shower door opened and in stepped the gorgeous woman that I slept with all night. She was nude, in all her glory.

“Mary Louise, any other time, I would be thrilled to see you like this, but—”

“Jim Bob. It’s Friday. What do you do on Friday?”

I stood there for a minute, water pummeling my face as it had the day before during my walk from my stalled truck, and looked at her.

“Isn’t Friday your day off? Normally?”

I nodded, enjoying the warm, controllable, indoor shower, and started to calm down a little.

“And do you know which particular Friday this is?”

I thought as hard as I could but did not remember. I shook my head.

“The Friday before the Saturday that you are to give your lecture. Remember?”

It was starting to dawn on me.

“Oh. With the flood and the deaths, I guess I forgot. New York.”

Dr. Jim Bob Brady and his wife Mary Louise are still a love story for the ages. Her unwavering support helps him chase his wild ideas and helps get him out of some sticky situations again, as in previous stories.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Act of Negligence, by John Bishop {ends 6/22}
Dr. Jim Bob Brady, Houston orthopedic surgeon and amateur sleuth, finds himself in the midst of a different type of medical mystery. His friend and colleague, Dr. James Morgenstern, refers him a series of dementia patients with orthopedic problems from Pleasant View Nursing Home. Each patient dies, irrespective of the treatment, a situation that Doc Brady is unaccustomed to.

Each death prompts an autopsy, performed by another Brady colleague, Dr. Jeff Clarke, who discovers unusual brain pathology in each patient. Some of the tissue samples show nerve regeneration, a finding unheard of in dementia patients.

Doc Brady, enraged by the loss of his patients and obsessively curious about the pathologic findings, begins to investigate the nursing home, as well as its owner and CEO, Dr. Theodore Frazier. This leads Brady and Clarke on an adventure to discover the happenings at Pleasant View—an adventure that sees them running for their lives.

Dr. Jim Bob Brady is an orthopedic surgeon who appreciates the fact that very few of his patients die on him. When four die within a week, he’s hoping they have something in common besides him. Since they’re also patients with dementia, he’s left feeling he really never knew much about them either. It’s a medical mystery not really suited to his skills as a surgeon, so luckily he has plenty of friends in other areas of medicine.

With input from nurses, doctors of pathology, and friends and family of the deceased, he starts putting together what sounds like a very unlikely case, but sometimes that’s exactly what can make it true. As he keeps thinking how unbelievable his findings are, more and more evidence is pointing to the impossible.

This was an engaging book from start to finish, and I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. I’ve enjoyed both of the Doc Brady mysteries I’ve ready, and either of them could also stand alone just fine. While it’s fun to know a bit about the characters, the author also gives us plenty of detail and background to understand the current book. I’d recommend any of the Doc Brady mysteries I’ve read to those who enjoy medical mysteries. They’ve been fun and distracting without the medical part being too graphic.

{click HERE to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited!} 

Becki Bayley is a wife, mom, and reader. She likes to go with the flow and sometimes post pictures on Instagram as PoshBecki.


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Act of Negligence!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, June 22nd, at 11:59pm Eastern time, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Act of Negligence, by John Bishop

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The North Face of the Heart, by Dolores Redondo {ends 6/8}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

New Orleans, Louisiana
Early morning, Monday, August 29, 2005

Amaia came awake slowly and listened carefully. She made out rhythmic breathing. Johnson and Charbou were sound asleep despite the roar of the storm and the constant ringing of telephones in the command center next door, which was only slightly muted by the walls. She assumed Dupree and Bull were still busy somewhere else in the fire station. Checking her watch, she found it was almost five in the morning. Dawn would arrive soon, though as yet the covered window admitted no light.

From the cot she could see some of the crime scene photos they’d sorted spread out across the conference table. Disorder, destruction, and chaos ruled each scene. Her impressions were jumbled. She was absolutely certain crucial clues were to be found at the crime scenes, and she hadn’t been able to get them out of her head. The answer lay in the killer’s staging, again and again, a desired outcome. Was it some sort of macabre therapy in which he took out his bitterness upon others? Or were these just rehearsals for an upcoming final act? If so, what was he waiting for, what permission did he need before murdering his entire family a second time? How many more times would he be driven to rehearse his final solution?

Usually a thriller is entertaining, and fine to pass the time. This thriller is so wonderfully written—the descriptions of the settings and characters are as compelling as the plot.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The North Face of the Heart, by Dolores Redondo {ends 6/8}
Amaia Salazar, a young detective from the north of Spain, has joined a group of trainees at the FBI Academy in Virginia. Haunted by her past and having already tracked down a predator on her own, Amaia is no typical rookie. And this is no ordinary student lecture at Quantico. FBI agent Aloisius Dupree is already well acquainted with Amaia’s skills, her intuition, and her ability to understand evil. He now needs her help in hunting an elusive serial killer dubbed “the Composer,” and in solving another case that’s been following him his whole life.

From New Jersey to Oklahoma to Texas, the Composer’s victims are entire families annihilated in the chaos of natural disasters, their bodies posed with chilling purpose amid the ruins. Dupree and Amaia follow his trail to New Orleans. The clock is ticking. It’s the eve of the worst hurricane in the city’s history. But a troubling call from Amaia’s aunt back home awakens in Amaia the ghosts from her childhood and sends her down a path as dark as that of the coming storm.

While Amaia is visiting the Quantico FBI Academy with other international inspectors and detectives, she’s especially looking forward to a seminar led by FBI agent Dupree. Imagine her shock and that of her mentor when Dupree seems to be singling her out during his presentation. He’s already recognized her as a "needle in a haystack" like him—a detective with nearly supernatural instincts.

Amaia goes overnight from a trainee to an integral part of the hunt for a serial killer. With the beautiful and tragic backdrop of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, what she thinks is just the hunt for the serial killer is also assisting Dupree with chasing monsters from his own past.

Usually thrillers are built heavily on the unexpected twists in their plot. This book was also poetic and inspiring in its descriptions of the historic city of New Orleans, the magic that lives there, and the tragedy brought so suddenly by Hurricane Katrina. I’d rate this book a high 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who like contemporary stories, thrillers, and drama with some old-school voodoo history.

{click here to purchase—currently FREE for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley believes in ghosts, magic, and the power of caffeine. Find more about what she’s reading and where by following her Instagram posts as PoshBecki.


One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The North Face of the Heart

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, June 8th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

The North Face of the Heart, by Dolores Redondo

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